Thanks for reading my blog series First Look, where I interview authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.
Elliot Clark (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) lived in Central Asia, where he served as a cross-cultural church planter along with his wife and children. He currently works to train local church leaders overseas with Training Leaders International. He is author of Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land (The Gospel Coalition, 2019).
Tell us what your new book is about.
Many of us in North America have been privileged with a history of relative ease. In many cases, evangelicals have been (and still may be) the social and cultural majority. As such, we’re accustomed to doing evangelism from a position of power and influence. And we might even be tempted to think that success, cultural status, and having a “voice” are what make our gospel believable.
But that’s not the way it’s been throughout church history, and it’s certainly not the norm in much of the world today. The Christian experience is typically one of exile. The Apostle Peter emphasized this as he wrote to first-century Christians facing trials of shame and social exclusion. What’s surprising is not that Christians suffer in this way—even Jesus was a chosen exile—but that our increasing experience of weakness and marginalization actually presents an incredible opportunity for the gospel.
What prompted you to write Evangelism as Exiles?
To be honest, the idea came from a friend, Ivan Mesa. He’s the reason why this book exists. He suggested I consider writing something on evangelism based on my experiences ministering around the world, particularly as a church planter in a Muslim-majority context.
While there are still substantial differences between my former home near the Middle East and my current one in the American Middle West, I’ve noticed some significant overlap. Returning to the U.S., I’ve been struck how Christians are exasperated as they sense the cultural landscape changing. We don’t know how to live as exiles. So, as I wrote, I tried to weave stories from our sisters and brothers overseas—and from the historic African-American church—who exemplify what it is to live as social outcasts, who even speak the gospel with confidence from positions of weakness.
Why do you hope people will read it?
I want to encourage people. The stories of incredible faith and witness do that for me, as do the accounts of mistakes and missed opportunities. We all need inspiration for evangelism because we all probably feel like we’re failing in one way or another.
I also want to help reset our expectations. As traditional Christianity becomes distasteful to non-believers, we won’t be able to depend on attractional evangelism. We can no longer expect to be respected. We also can’t wait for opportunities to fall into our lap. If anything, we need to recover bold gospel proclamation, all while demonstrating genuine respect, visible holiness, and loving hospitality which God will use to open others to that gospel.
What’s your favorite part of the book?
This is such a difficult question, in part because the book includes so many personal memories. It tells stories of dear friends from around the world whom we dearly miss.
But if I were to pick one part, it would be an account from a memorable Easter. It was the morning after a violent attack on our pastor. That Sunday during worship, Pastor Yusuf rose to preach shortly after strange men entered the sanctuary. We didn’t know how he would respond.
With trembling in his voice he immediately spoke of Christ and the gospel, his death and resurrection, and the need for all people to repent and believe. His tone was forceful. His eyes locked to the congregation. I sensed his gaze focus past my brow and directly to our visitors. Yusuf had taken inventory of the fear in the room and he decided to stock the shelves with an even greater fear: the coming judgment of God. His Spirit-filled boldness was amazing.